Your Weekend: At the Movies: With Silly Subtitles

12/16/2011 10:09 AM |

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There’s a pretty big cinematic competition brewing at the box office this weekend; I’m referring, of course, to which franchise entry has the silliest subtitle. I haven’t seen any of these yet, so the subtitles are all I have to go on.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: A Game of Shadows might sound like the most sophisticated subtitle of the week until you consider that it also sounds exactly like the kind of faux-sophisticated, vaguely Holmesish title you’d attach to the second Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Holmes movie. I was fine enough with what I can remember of Ritchie’s first go-round, but the trailers for this one do make it look a bit like one of those sequels where the filmmakers took the first film’s financial success as a sign that every single decision they made on it was correct, and could only be improved upon by doing more of it.

Actually, Ritchie used that strategy to good effect when he made Snatch, which is somehow vastly superior to Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels despite being more or less the same movie. Maybe that’ll happen here? Jared Harris playing Moriarty is certainly promising. And if you’re stick of Downey doing big franchise movies, don’t worry: only five or six more years, two or three more Iron Mans and Holmeses apiece, and Downey will be almost maybe getting kinda too old for this [blowing] shit [up].

Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol: Ghost Protocol might sound like the coolest, most high-tech subtitle of the week until you consider the punctuation issues it raises, and also how the first three Mission: Impossible movies were confident enough about their utilitarian nature to just stick with Roman numerals. Of course, this is a part four, and there’s just something off-putting about the presence of a “IV” in a movie title that’s not Saw, so fair enough, Ghost Protocol… fair enough.

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I rewatched the entire Mission: Impossible “trilogy” in preparation for this one and to review the Blu-Ray boxed set that was recently released, by which I mean repackaged. Here are my findings: Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible from 1996 is just as good as I remember, possibly better. It’s sleek, efficient, and De Palma-y without getting crazy self-indulgent (and I enjoy crazy self-indulgent De Palma, but I do admire when he buckles down and just brings it for a studio movie like this or Carlito’s Way).

Also, Mission: Impossible II is way, way worse than I remember, and my memories weren’t all that fond or clear, though my memories of seeing this trailer and getting super-excited are, on both counts. Everything that sucks about the movie is pretty much right there in the trailer: bad romantic banter, laughable John Woo pyrotechnics, a focus on Tom Cruise’s flowing mane more than spies doing awesome spy stuff, yet a few dry Anthony Hopkins quips and some well-deployed theme music can obscure that to the degree where it looks like an awesome action spectacular blowout (or did when I was nineteen). Not so in the movie itself, which captures the exact moment John Woo stopped being cool (or maybe this movie single-handedly made John Woo uncool? But Cruise has had such a strong track record with good directors that it would be weird for him to steamroll Woo).

Anyway, in proper Goldilocks style, Mission: Impossible III is juuuust as I remember it: solid J.J. Abrams spycraft, trying to be a little too intense and emotional for its own good. Abrams jumped to another Paramount franchise to continue his feature directing career, but he stuck around Ghost Protocol to produce, while tossing the reins to Brad Bird, presumably more in the Abrams time-to-show-I-can-make-a-movie-like-this mode than the De Palma/Woo time-to-bring-my-obsessions-to-a-Cruise-franchise-for-fun-and-profit mode. Though I have no expectation that this will match the soulfulness of Bird’s dream projects (Iron Giant, The Incredibles) or even his fix-it gig on Ratatouille, I also bought tickets to see this in the special IMAX-only five-day engagement prior to the film’s actual release on Wednesday like, a month and a half ago. Please remember, the only place to see proper IMAX footage in New York City is the IMAX at the 68th St AMC. The fact that a bunch of those digital faux-MAX screens are showing blown-up but not blown-way-up versions of this movie this weekend (and not including the proper-IMAX-only Dark Knight Rises prologue!) makes me sad for lots of people who will go see it and not know any better.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked: This might sound like the stupidest subtitle of the weekend or possibly all time, until you consider how much more work must go into thinking up Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel subtitles versus how much work goes into thinking up Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel screenplays. I mean, if ever there was a franchise where no one would bring it up if you just called it Alvin and the Chipmunks 3, it’s probably this one.

I have to apologize to you, dear readers, for I had the opportunity to see Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (on the top of the screening invitation forward, from Editor Mark: “This is between you and your god”) and passed, not even out of common self-respect, but because it was for ten in the morning on a Sunday, and seriously, fuck that noise. I’m not ruling out sneaking into this one at some point, just so I can accurately gauge the misery and/or indifference levels of Jason Lee (whose sincerity naturally wavers) and David Cross (who manages to make his participation seem entirely sarcastic).

Carnage: Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the play God of Carnage goes the opposite direction, paring its title down to a single word, so it sounds like a slasher movie instead of an epic multiplayer videogame. In the four-person cast, the intersection of these distinct careers is on its own cause for interest: John C. Reilly has moved back to indies after making a go of it in the comedy world for a few years; in recent movies like Terri and Cedar Rapids, he brings some of that comedian sensibility to less broad movies, and this seems like material for continuing that trend. Winslet is easing back into features after her Mildred Pierce miniseries, while Christoph Waltz finishes up a ridiculously busy year of playing various tones of bad guys in The Green Hornet (comic), Water for Elephants (dramatic), and The Three Musketeers (who knows—and I’m not saying that because I didn’t see it); the post-Basterds check-cashing complete, it’s about time he showed off another side. Sutton’s review gets me excited to see a Jodie Foster performance that sounds more alive than her dutiful wifework in The Beaver (to be fair, for that one she was distracted by the task of directing a bad movie). Like most stacked-cast Oscar hopefuls, this probably won’t win any awards, indeed has barely been mentioned in that seasonal conversation, which is probably just as well. It’s Chipwrecked‘s time to dominate anyway.